Love is Love: A Story in Three Parts – III

Part III

A few months ago, there was a night, like most nights, when I lay in bed with my four-year-old, Lark, snuggling her as she prepared to drift off to sleep. All parents know these moments, that fill you with such a fierce, protective, animal joy. Whispering, sharing dreamtime thoughts. As I tried to get her to settle down, I was fending off licks because she was also pretending to be a kitten.

At times my daughter seems to have the magic power of divining my thoughts. As we lay together in the darkness, I was brooding about Jess, the young woman who had been abandoned by her family when she was at her most needy and vulnerable. Just the day before, I had watched Episode 5 of Queer Eye. (see my previous post)

Out of the blue, my Lark piped up, voice small and disconsolate, “Mum, I would be very very sad if you gave me away.”

“I would never, ever give you away my sweet baby,” I said. “You are my beautiful child and I will love you forever.”

We were quiet for a moment. I was thinking of the long, hard struggle I’d gone through just to have this sky-rocket child in my life. About what a supreme gift it feels like to be her mother.

“Will you love me forever, even when I’m a grown-up?” she asked.

“Of course,” I said. “Even when you’re a grown-up. You will always be my baby.”

“Good,” she said. “Because I never want to leave you and I want to live with you forever in your house.”

I’ve been around this parenting block a few times, so I know that small children believe with utter conviction that they’ll want to live with their parents for the rest of their lives, even when they’re adults. I don’t want to disabuse my darlings of this notion, but I suspect that by the time they are 18, they’ll be ready to fly the coop.

“That’s fine. Of course you can live with us,” I told her with a kiss, but she had turned back into a kitten again and kept trying to lick me. 

After escaping and leaving her to sleep, I felt thoughtful, her little question, Will you love me forever, even when I’m a grown-up? replaying over and over in a loop.

That is what the human condition boils down to. Will I always be loved? I want to be loved and accepted. First, we seek to be sure of that love and acceptance from our family members, and then when we are older, we cast the net wider, and seek it from friends and partners. And if at some point, we lose that love and that safety, we lose our sense of self in the world.

If you ask any parent, they will tell you that their biggest fear is losing their children. I live with the unfortunate and realistic fear that both of my children will get brain tumours, but I’ve somehow had to come to grips with the possibility of that loss, and live our life with as much grace as I can muster with daily, hourly, minutely gratitude that it is MY privilege to be their mother in this life. 

Part of my gratitude towards them is acceptance. I work to accept them for who they are, with their likes and dislikes, which may not always align with my own. I accept them for their strengths and for their flaws. And I always let them know that FIRSTLY they are loved, and that when we hit roadblocks, we’ll find a way to overcome and muddle through together. 

And when I fuck up, which I do, often, I ask for their forgiveness, so they can see me owning my mistakes and moving on.

So I will love them when they make poor choices, like an ill-considered hair colour or gawd-awful tattoo. And I’ll champion them when they make good choices that lead to their success and happiness. And I’ll love them when they are acting awful and being completely self-absorbed, which they do, and they will, because they’re humans.

Love, compassion, gratitude and acceptance first. And the rest will fall into place.

Movie Kids

I am stuck in that parenting doldrum where I spend way too much of my time negotiating. And coaxing. And convincing. And bribing. The four year old, obviously. The 10 year old is currently in the golden tween age of parental cooperation.

This, to my mind, is one of the biggest drawbacks of parenting, trying to “make” a kid do something that they don’t want to do. And in the process, realizing, with that sinking sense of futility, that it’s f*****g impossible to force a small human to do things that they don’t want to do. You can’t “make” them eat healthy food. Nor can you “make” them go to bed, or get in their car seat, or keep walking, or put on their socks, or stop talking when you require quiet right now.

In the halcyon days, pre-kid, you might imagine your future life as a parent, with well-behaved little people scampering off to bed, eating everything on their plates at dinner, and not relentlessly demanding one more episode of Paw Patrol. You would never have been able to imagine the constant arguing, manoeuvering and strategizing that goes on to make the train stay on the tracks every single day.

Famously, when Craig and I had no offspring, we spent a day hanging with some friends and their kids. The kiddos were acting up, total shenanigans, not listening. The usual stuff. After they left, during the debrief, I remember Craig saying something like, “No kid of mine will ever blah blah and nor will I tolerate that kind of blah blah.” And I was like, “Agreed!” Fast forward a few years and zero in on us quietly eating our words.

Neither of us had ever spent a lot of real time with real children since we were children. Maybe both of us had been unduly influenced by…. movie kids. What are movie kids, you ask? Just that. Kids that appear in movies, and on television shows. Kids that are docile and totally, totally compliant. Kids that don’t write their own dialogue. Kids that run off and play so that the main characters can talk quietly.

Appearances of movie kids go something like this:

Mom and Dad need to have an important conversation. Two kids enter the room, perfectly groomed, and sit at the table for a minute or two. They only say things in response to what their parents have said. Then one parent says, “Sweetheart, Mommy and Daddy need to have an important conversation, can you guys go do your homework?”

“Sure, Mom,” says the older kid. “C’mon!” And taking l’il sis by the hand, they quietly leave the room. Never to be seen or heard from again.

In the movies, when adults need quiet or alone time, kids are quiet and leave them alone. For obvious reasons. We wouldn’t want to watch a movie where the witty dialogue was interrupted several hundred times by requests for juice boxes or complaints that a sibling has “stolen my spot” on the couch. We don’t want art to imitate life that much.

One of the (many) things that my daughter doesn’t want to do is be quiet. Lark is a super-expressive, but very noisy child.

Last Sunday, Craig and I needed to have a conversation. Not an important one. We were talking about groceries. I was sitting at the kitchen counter, pen in hand and trying to make a list, while he went through fridge and cupboards, checking our supplies. Lark was also in the room. Unfortunately, she didn’t want us to be doing what we were doing. She decided to call upon all of her powers of annoyance to stop us from having this conversation.

Mummy I just need someone to do something with me. Mum, don’t do this now. Don’t talk to Daddy. I need you. I need Mum. Loona. Loona. Loona-do. This is boring. I just want to watch something on Netflix. I want to watch just one episode. Can you turn on the TV for me? Muuuuum. Muuuuum. Stop talking to Daddy. Please. I need you.

Over the top of this continuous loop, our conversation went like this.

C: We need more cashews.
E: What did you say? (Trying to unwrap Lark from my leg.)
C: I said, cashews.
E: Lark, please be quiet, I can't hear what Daddy is saying.
L: (Kicking the bottom of my stool with her feet) Muuuum. I don't want you to do this. I'm so so so bored. I want to do something with yooooooouuuu.

Unfortunately, I can’t make her be quiet. I can ask her to be quiet. I can plead with her. I can coax, threaten and bribe. I can do many things, but I can’t make.

That’s only in the movies.

When Things Go Wrong

I’m having one of those weeks.

One of those is obviously code for somewhat crappy.

Monday morning, as I was getting the bikes out of the shed to take the kid to school, Bean suddenly piped up behind me, “I hate to tell you this, Mum, but there’s something really furry up there on that shelf.” A quick glance revealed a raccoon, curled up in a ball, sleeping. If you are not from Canada, you may not understand why this was an annoying discovery. Raccoons are cute, nocturnal, territorial, destructive and hard to get rid of.  With a sigh, I ignored the fuzz-ball and left for school.

Tuesday, I learned that we have signs of termites in our house. “Not a major infestation,” the inspector informed me. Ugh. Isn’t any kind of infestation bad news? We are in the midst of home renos, a time during which it is important to remain very, very calm even in the face of termites. “Hmmm, okay,” I said, very, very calmly. Then he handed me a quote for several thousand dollars worth of termite-termination.

The next day I got a text from my contractor, telling me my cheque had bounced. “Hmmm, okay,” I texted back. Further investigation revealed this was due to bank ineptitude and was resolved the same day. Phew.

Later on that day, as I was about to sit down for a picnic in the park with friends, my phone rang. It was my son’s school. “Bean’s not feeling well,” said the secretary. With a sigh, I collected him. We’d organized an appointment at the hospital that afternoon which I’d rather hoped he could keep, but in the end had to cancel.

Which brings us to today. This morning at the park, I saved my daughter from an almost epic bail off the climber, which left me breathless and shaking with adrenaline. This afternoon, I didn’t manage to save her as she tripped in Rowe Farms and slammed the side of her face into the corner of the counter. And this evening, I locked her in the car.

Yes, you read that right. I locked her in the car and had no way to open it.

Here’s how this went down: I’d organized with my sister to babysit my two, while I got a hair cut this evening, and we agreed to get takeout from a place we both like.

Before her arrival with my niece, I cajoled Lark into hopping in the car to drive over to pick up the food, and was chuffed to get a parking spot right out the front of the restaurant.

Food secured, we returned to the vehicle, and that’s when the shenanigans began.

Of late, my daughter is a total imp when it comes to buckling up. She decides she wants to sit in her brother’s booster. She climbs into the front and starts playing with the high-beams. She wriggles her little body in such a way that I cannot, for the life of me, do up the clips of her seat-belt. I’m torn between hilarity and frustration, dying to laugh but also trying to keep a stern face as I bark at her to GET INTO HER SEAT. Usually, there are threats. No Paw Patrol. Daddy’s doing bedtime for the rest of the week, etc. Generally, these don’t work.

Tonight, she scampered into the driver’s seat and started pressing every single button she could lay her little hands on. Most of the time, this means that when I start the car I’ll be turning off the windshield wipers and turn signal. I should also add that our car is old and low-tech, so this isn’t really that big of a deal.

Often, my biggest concern is the time-crunch. I’m standing there, waiting for her to decide she’s done playing, as the minutes tick by, and suddenly that comfortable 15-minute buffer to get wherever we have to be, has dwindled away. Then I have to resort to brute force, which I hate.

This evening, I watched her manipulate the steering wheel and jab her finger repeatedly on the hazards. I made a few attempts to lure her into the back seat, “Auntie will be waiting for us.” “Aren’t you hungry? It’s almost time for dinner!”

Finally, after this went on for ten minutes, she climbed out of the driver’s seat, got in her seat and allowed her clips to be done up without fighting me. I immediately felt that parental wash of relief that you get when your wild-card child is contained in a way which prevents them from engaging in any more silliness.

I closed her door and marched around to the driver’s side. The door was locked. A shot of sheer panic went through me. Naturally, I checked the other doors, just to be sure, knowing that they were also locked. She had locked them in her button-pushing frenzy. And had put the car keys on the passenger seat along with the food and my wallet.

As with home renos, in these situations, it’s important to remain very, very calm. My daughter called to me through the window, but wasn’t upset at all. Yet.

Quickly I assessed the situation. I needed the second set of car keys. They were at home. My sister was on her way there. I pulled out my phone. If this was the movies, my phone battery would’ve been flat. But it’s real-life, so I had 20% charge left. I called her and rapidly explained the situation. She was stuck in traffic, far from us and still at least half an hour away. Damn.

My next thought was CAA. I called their helpline and began listening to elevator music while a soothing voice informed me that they were experiencing a higher than normal volume of calls.  The same voice also told me to hang up and call 911 if this was an emergency. Was this an emergency? I wasn’t sure.

I was starting to not feel very, very calm.

I could see now why parents go mental in these situations. I thought back to how my mother had famously chopped the bathroom door down with an axe when my sister locked herself in there at the age of 3, and stopped responding to questioning. She was fine. The door was not so fine.

Suddenly, a light-bulb appeared above my head. I have neighbours! Neighbours who might be home and whom I can call! Rapidly, I pulled up my friend J’s number and rang it. She answered! She was home! She had her car there! She grabbed her daughter and they ran across to our house. I guided her to our hidden key and to where the extra set of car keys was. She was on her way.

The solution was approaching. I continued to smile and wave at Lark.  She kept smiling back. I resisted the urge to find something heavy and smash the window open.

A few minutes later, J and her daughter appeared and joined me and another friend who’d happened to be passing by. We unlocked the car and opened the door. Everyone cheered. Bemused, my daughter looked at all of us surrounding her.

It felt strange to not immediately take her out of her seat, but it had only been 15 minutes. Waving goodbye to our saviours, I drove home, and then took her out of her seat and held her.

I held her so tightly, thankful that it wasn’t a hot day. Thankful that I have great neighbours. Thankful that if I had needed to, I could’ve called 911 and help would have been there in a minute.




Screen-Free Sundays

A few weeks back, I was hiding in my bedroom, trying to find ways to free up storage on my phone, which had reached capacity and was in a feeble state. I heard Bean looking for me around the house, while I continued tapping away at my device, in stealth mode.

“Mum! Muuuuum. Where are you?” He bounced into my room and saw me holding my phone. “Hey!” he said accusingly. “Isn’t this supposed to be screen-free Sunday?”

It was. It was our very first screen-free Sunday – a family initiative that I had announced to general groans the previous week. The other household members were doing pretty well with this new thing, but I was failing miserably at it, as I just needed to do one more thing on my phone. All the time.

“What IS a screen-free day?” you might ask. There are a few iterations on this theme: screen-free weeks, social media detoxes, screen breaks, etc. Basically, it means taking a break, (of some pre-determined period) from screens in all their forms. Phones, iPads, TVs, video games, and so on. I knew that a screen-free week wasn’t realistic for our family, but I imagined that a full Sunday would be a refreshing break from being nose-down in some sort of tech all the time.

The first thing that I hoped to gain from it was to back my daughter off of her Paw Patrol habit. Every morning, she asks to watch Paw Patrol before she even eats breakfast. Even though we have a hard and fast rule that we don’t watch any TV before school. I know why she thinks I’ll suddenly relent though, because to be honest, depending on the day, I sometimes allow her to watch 2 or 3 episodes in a row – in the afternoon. This is usually when I’m desperate to get something done and having her absorbed in a show is a welcome break from the unceasing two-year-old-ness.

The last few Sundays have been kinda great when the kids have wanted to watch some telly, and we could be all, Sorry, no, it’s screen-free Sunday. And they were like, Awwwww, okaaaaaay. On the flip side, after the kids went to bed, Craig and I realized that we couldn’t watch our show on Netflix either because…it’s screen-free Sunday. So, one Sunday night, I ended up reading a chapter of The Magician’s Nephew with Bean and then fell asleep. At 9:45. For once, I got 8 hours of sleep instead of my usual 6.5.

Realistically though, the kids’ TV habits are the least of my problems. The world and the technology we now use daily is so different from what it was even 10 years ago. About a month ago, Lark called me over to where she was playing. “Do you want to watch a video on my phone?” she asked me, holding up her hot pink plastic smartphone. Thankfully, it doesn’t light up or make noise, except in her imagination.

“Sure!” I said. “Who’s in this video?” “Me and Ginger,” she said. “See?” She tapped the fake screen with one small finger. We both pretended to watch it for a moment, and then she moved on to a different game. On another occasion, she brought the phone over to me and asked, “Shall we FaceTime with Bubby?” Almost every day, she – relentlessly – asks to look at photos on my phone, play iPad, watch children’s clips on YouTube or check out videos of her and her brother.

These are the realities our children are growing up with. Hundreds of videos and photos of themselves to view whenever they like. Every episode of every show that they love on demand. All of their video games available to play for as long as they want. None of this pay-25-cents-then-you-die crap that we grew up with.

As much as I may lament, or at the very least, ponder the implications of all of this for my kids, the next obvious question is: What about the adults? 

What’s happening to all of the grown-ups who spend more time each day doing stuff on their phones than, well, anything else? Who did my daughter learn from that a smartphone is such an endlessly fascinating device?

Recently, on the same topic, I heard an interesting interview on CBC Radio’s The Current, with Adam Alter, the author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping us Hooked. Alter explores how addictive technologies like social media can be destructive to our human interactions, and also what we can do to create some distance from them.

Personally speaking, I’m completely addicted to my phone, and I’m well aware of that. Hence, screen-free Sundays. I’m sure that many of you can relate to that feeling, half-panic, half-despair, that you have when you think you’ve left your phone at home. And then the consequent rush of relief when you realize it’s actually in your bag. I don’t even want one of those apps that tells you how many times a day you’ve looked at your phone or whatnot. Because, yeah, it’s a lot.

I’m not making an argument for chucking our phones out and returning to Morse code and carrier pigeons. The Internet is amazing and I can’t imagine living without it. Our devices enable so much ease in our lives, as one Sunday when I used my phone to book an Uber to go to my parents’ house for my niece’s birthday party. I’m trying, though, to create a little mindfulness around using it, rather than picking it up all the time as an instinctive, knee-jerk reaction to boredom. My husband and I mock each other when one of us pauses a show to get a drink, and the other immediately picks up his/her phone, because the Lord knows we can’t be alone with our thoughts for an entire minute and a half.

Okay, we do bend the rules of screen-free Sunday for certain things: when we need to Skype Australia, check the weather, quickly reply to a text message, or order an Uber as mentioned above. If we are doing something memorable, then we’ll use our phones to take photos. And quickly post them to Facebook or Instagram. Just kidding. I do that on Mondays.

For the most part though, we have to pick up the phone, not get distracted by it, and complete the task at hand. Sundays make us more thoughtful about using screens. We all have to find other things to do, together and alone, so we’ve been doing more reading and playing games. And even better, getting more sleep.

During that 20-minute Uber ride to north Toronto, I couldn’t sit there and scroll through various feeds, or text people, or put things in my calendar, or whatever it is I do all the time on my phone, so I chose instead to stare out the window and just be. My driver was skimming through an oldies playlist, and I Only Have Eyes For You by The Flamingos came on. Spring sunshine was streaming in, I was relishing the quiet of being alone without a small person clambering on me, and I had one of those dreamy moments where a song on the radio becomes the perfect soundtrack to your day. Everything seems to blur around you, as you really notice a song for the first time, although you’ve heard it many times before.

With my phone in my hand, that moment would have been lost.

Or captured forever on Instagram. #uberselfie #theflamingos #bestsongever


For more on this topic:




Have Toddler Will Travel

It’s 5:00 in the morning and I’ve been up for over an hour already. My experiment of early rising that I spoke about in my previous post is well underway. Except, it hasn’t been a conscious decision to be up and at ’em at this ungodly hour. I’m dealing with a massive case of toddler jet-lag over here. My 26-month-old woke me  consistently and hourly from 11:00 pm to 4:00 am, at which point I gave up on sleep and succumbed to the inevitable.

Her little internal clock has been turned on its head, because we’ve just returned from a week spent in Hong Kong, which is 13 hours ahead of EST. In an ideal world, I wouldn’t have attempted a trip of that distance and short length with a toddler in tow, but the stars had aligned to take this journey, so off we went.

I should clarify that this trip was a gift given to our family by the Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada, and has been something that’s been idling on our family back-burner for over five years. I was a wee bit skeptical – and slightly fearful to be honest – when my son informed me that it was his dearest wish to travel to China. After some contemplation, and a little research, I presented Hong Kong to him as an option. He was in. We were in. A few months later we got the green light from Children’s Wish, and we were all systems go.


At this point in his life, the Bean is a seasoned traveller. He’s only eight, but he’s already been to Australia 4 times. He can get on a plane and keep himself entertained for hours – 15, in fact – with movies, video games, books and iPad. I suspected, with a sinking feeling, that it would be a different story with Lark.

When we boarded our Air Canada flight to Hong Kong, we were assigned three seats together and one across the aisle. Guess who got to sit alone with the kids for the whole flight?

Craig was essentially in another country on the other side of the drinks cart, while I grappled with ear-buds popping out of tiny ears, spilled apple juice and pieces of puzzle that’d fallen into the abyss on the floor. Upon sitting down, I’d been horrified to learn that the arm-rests on our row didn’t lift up. Hoping that there was some magic key available to raise them, I called the flight attendant, a sympathetic character with a man-bun. “Sorry,” he said. “They don’t lift up. It’s only this row, for some reason.” Feeling cursed, I gave the arm-rest one more feeble yank, before accepting my fate. “I know it’s really annoying for families,” he added nicely.

It certainly was really annoying for the following 15 hours as my toddler squirmed on top of me, and my son complained about not being able to stretch out his legs and go to sleep. To make matters worse, my Lark decided that sitting with her father was inconceivableand screamed as though being subjected to anaesthesia-less surgery every time I tried to pass her across the aisle. There were tears shed over Russia  that night. Mine, hers, and probably those of all the passengers within a ten-foot radius. On touchdown, I kissed the sweet earth in gratitude.

After staying awake for the entire journey there, she promptly passed out at 6:30 in the evening. Good, I thought. This way she’s already getting on local time. Maybe she’ll even sleep through. Ha. Naive dreams. You know when you’re jet-lagged, and you wake up out of the deepest sleep ever, like, wha-? What time is it? How long have I been sleeping? And it’s been maybe an hour, but you feel completely disoriented? Right. So imagine that feeling, but instead of being able to roll over and go back to sleep, you have tiny hands patting your face in the darkness and a loud, clear voice in your ear, saying, “Mummy. Are you awake? I don’t want to go sleepies. I want to wake up now. Mummy. I need snack. Can I have Larabar? It’s not time for sleep-time.” After hearing my hushed insistence that it was, in fact, time to sleep, she’d respond in her little bugle voice, “NO, it’s not. It’s time to get up. Mummy. Mummy. Mummy?” And then she’d press her small face hard and lovingly onto mine, cutting off my air supply, so that I finally gave in, and took her to the bathroom, to perch on the edge of the tub whilst eating a snack and reading stories.

Usually, at around 4:30 am, either my husband or myself would take her out of the room and try to keep her entertained in the empty hotel lobby until breakfast was served at 6:30.


Sleep issues aside, toddler-travel can prove difficult for other reasons too. Everyone who’s ever cared for a toddler for more than say, 10 minutes, has observed that moving them from point A to point B is challenging. They may object to your proposed mode of travel – stroller, carrier, or feet. They may require many stops to observe and interact with their surroundings. You need them to enter a shop 20 feet away. They need to look at this pile of gravel, or bit of fence, or clump of flowers – apparently for the rest of the day. These conflicting agendas mean that 45 minutes later, you still haven’t bought the bananas you set out to purchase that morning.

So now let’s imagine that you need to move this little person through a busy and unfamiliar transit system in a city of 7.2 million people. And she doesn’t want to ride in the stroller, she wants to walk. No, she wants to run. Actually, she just wants to run away. She wants to get on the escalator by herself and she definitely doesn’t want to hold hands with anyone. Is the train coming? Too bad, she’s busy putting her mouth on this glass partition over here. Which is why we left all of our parenting ideals behind and resorted to outright bribes. If you get in your stroller, you can have a treat when we get there, I said one million times in a week.

Bribes. I mean, treats.
Bribes. I mean, treats.

All the treats

I don’t want to make it sound like caring for her was all on me, and my husband was off drinking margaritas or something. He was trying his best to do his equal share of toddler-time, but my daughter let it be known, in no uncertain terms, that Mummy was the preferred parent, in every conceivable situation. Mummy has to push the stroller, Mummy must carry me, I have to sit on Mummy’s lap, I have to go through the turnstile with Mummy, Mummy has to take me to the lobby at 4:45 am. “It’s like she’s addicted to you,” said my husband bitterly. I have never heard the mother-child bond referred to as addiction before, but if the shoe fits. If you let Daddy carry you, you can have a piece of chocolate, I said to my daughter.

Joined at the hip
Joined at the hip

Of course, please don’t think that the trip was all ruinous. Actually, it was amazing. We let Bean call the shots and saw all the things that he wanted to. My kids were treated so well by the locals. We were offered seats every ride on the busy MTR, and if people were often startled by a little girl darting amongst their legs on the sidewalk, they took it in stride and were unfailingly polite and helpful to us. Certain experiences would also just never have been had, as when Lark and I made friends with a bunch of old ladies in a playground at 7:00 am, who were there doing their morning calisthenics.


I’m led to conclude that while not without its challenges, this epic trip was worth it. My son got his dream trip, and my husband and I proved to ourselves that if we could survive this with her at this age, any future travel will seem like cake, right? Which has me dreaming of far-off destinations on this dark and chilly January morning in 2017.

We did it.
We did it.

Before any new planning begins, must sleep, though.